To understand how God views the marriage covenant between believers, consider God's loving and merciful baptismal covenant with us.
The apostle Paul recognized and repeated God's command for married couples who had God's Spirit but were separated because they just could not reconcile. He wrote that they must remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:10-11), unless porneia was evident (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).
In today's world, where we read of upwards of 50 percent divorce rates, such a command seems old-fashioned and outdated. Many divorces are granted based on couples having irreconcilable differences. In other words, those couples cannot live in peace because of their different approaches to life.
The reasons for those differences may be many. Since we are all products of our environment and background, our views on issues may differ greatly. For example, growing up in fear of an abusive parent evokes a myriad of emotional characteristics.
When two converted people marry, they have high hopes their marriage will be eternally happy and tremendously successful. Often, despite major problems in the background of one or both, the marriage is a happy one (and both would admit it takes work). Once in a while, the two just cannot get along and have to separate. Reasons may be many.
"This marriage should never have been in the first place" is a common expression used, after the fact. Or "the marriage was broken when she/he could not live up to the standards God requires in a marriage." Or, "his/her past was so bad, he/she could never be a good husband/wife."
And yet we don't hear such expressions coming from God's Word. Why doesn't Paul state, "the members must reconcile or remain unmarried unless the problems were caused by... [you fill in the reason]"? No doubt in Paul's age some of the same problems and abusive backgrounds existed. After all, he called it "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).
But still the bottom line when two members could not get along was-if they cannot reconcile, they must remain unmarried.
On the surface this seems like a cruel judgment. God doesn't even give hope for the party that might be trying the hardest. If just one member is trying and the other member refuses to reconcile, the judgment remains the same-both must remain unmarried. Does God want two people to live alone for the rest of their lives without hope of remarrying someone else? Is this judgment a fair one from our merciful Father?
What if one member has had a terribly abusive past? The reality of scars from the past can affect a marriage deeply. The challenges that can face married couples can be discouraging and at times almost overwhelming. It can seem like giving up and having a fresh start would be easier and more likely to succeed.
But God does not want us to give up. He doesn't give up on us in our struggle to overcome our past in our baptismal covenant. And He doesn't want us to give up on each other in our marital covenant.
In order to understand God's judgment, it's important to comprehend that reconciling a marriage between two believers who have God's Spirit is not impossible! God nowhere uses the term "irreconcilable marriage" when speaking of "believers." If a marriage were truly not reconcilable and God's judgment stood, we might question His wisdom and mercy. However, God gives believers a tremendous advantage over nonbelievers.
At the heart of God's judgment is the fact of a transformation experienced by all believers. It's called conversion.
Before considering this transformation, let's read how God considers all of us just before our conversion. It's necessary to consider this factor because some feel one's background, especially an abusive one, is justification for invalidating a marriage if one or both members fail in a marriage.
Consider Our Covenant With God
In considering whether an abusive past negates a marriage covenant, why not start by considering whether an abusive past negates our baptismal covenant with God? Will Christ refuse to marry any Christian at the resurrection because we have not overcome all our problems?
Or does He put us away because we haven't overcome the reactions stemming from our abusive past completely?
Thankfully He does not. In His love and mercy He gives us the chance to reconcile with Him. We are grateful that God gives us every chance to keep our covenant with Him-all the way to death. We know our past. We want time to overcome it.
While our individual pasts may seem harder or easier to us, God sees things differently. In Ephesians 2:1-6, God describes our past. He says every single one of us has been dead in our sins, living in lust according to Satan's way. He says we were by nature children of wrath.
None of us are exceptions.
Let's make God's description very clear. Every man and woman entering into a marriage covenant came out of a background that caused him or her to have a wrathful nature. It's interesting that the Greek for "wrath" is orge and is also defined as "anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath."
Paul makes it evident in Romans 3:9-19, that both Israelites and gentiles are wicked before God. Truly, all of us have come from a background causing us to have a heart that "is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).
In order to have a happy, successful marriage, we need a new foundation, a new background. Otherwise the problems generated from our past will cause irreconcilable marriage impasses. All believers have equal pasts to God. None come to the baptismal waters with a greater chance of displaying the fruits of God's Spirit than anyone else. We are all worthy of death. None are good.
Upon repentance, baptism and receiving God's Holy Spirit, every believer has been transformed. No exceptions! Former sexual offenders, alcoholics, recipients of abuse, haters of God, antagonists-all are transformed (converted) in the process of time with God's Spirit.
Note through the following scriptures what happens to the believer:
We are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
We are a new creation in Christ. Old things have passed away, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). "New" is not a "repairing of damages," but rather a "new existence."
We have died with Christ, but now Christ lives in us and we live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). The mystery of the ages is revealed in our life-Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26-27).
Christ is magnified in believers (Philippians 1:20). The life of Christ is to be seen in us (2 Corinthians 4:11). Christ is being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).
Newness of Life
Do we grasp the great meaning and hope that these scriptures hold? In reality, believers have a new start. Our former background of deceit, wrath, etc., has been buried. We walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). All this because we have been given by God, not a spirit of fear or any other dysfunctional emotion, but the Spirit of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Stirring up the Spirit of love through prayer, Bible study, fasting and meditation yields the fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
God provides the way and means for us to reconcile the problems in marriage. We are admonished to "put off the old man " and "put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Colossians 3:9-10).
If we are raised with Christ (in baptism, Romans 6:4) we are to seek those things that are above (Colossians 3:1). That which is from above solves all marriage problems between believers: pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:17).
The fruit of righteousness between believers in their marriages is sown in peace by those who make peace (verse 18). It is the responsibility of believers to let Christ's mind of humility be in them (Philippians 2:5). Because we are newborn babes, we lay aside malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy and all evil speaking (1 Peter 2:1-2).
For believers who are having problems in marriage, there are only two options. "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
For Paul to make any exception for believers other than that prescribed by Christ (porneia), would be to deny the very Spirit of God. Paul understood that one's prebaptismal past must not influence judgments of binding and loosing believers' marriages.
Believers are new creations in Christ. They have been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-6). It is vitally important that we not willfully deny that power working in our life, making the blood of the covenant something common and insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29).
There will always be difficulties in marriage. Many may be very severe and demand our all in coping! And to this world many would seem like more than reason enough to give up. There can always be reasons believers use to justify why they cannot get along and choose to separate. Yet there has never been a marriage broken by the actions of love, joy, peace-the mind of Christ in us. Conflict arises when we fail to put off and lay aside wicked ways and dysfunctional reactions from our past and put on and seek the righteous clothing of the Bride of Christ.
Allowing exceptions by judging what happened before conversion would open Pandora's box. There would never be a time when marriages would ever be binding.
When the Church makes judgments concerning believers who have separated or divorced and desire a judgment as to whether their marriage is bound or not, the Church must base its determination on Scripture only. The following questions are asked:
•Was porneia involved-sexual misconduct (Matthew 5 and 19)?
•Was there fraud? (Fraud is always intentional.)
•Are both parties really believers?
Do you and your mate have God's Spirit? Then, "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." God is fair and justified in His judgment. Marriage is holy, the very reflection of Christ's marriage to the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Just as the marriage between Christ and His Bride will never be broken, neither will the marriage between two believers who endure to the end. UN